Increasing Physician Engagement

Physician engagement can deliver significant value to hospitals

Traditionally, physicians have been trained to be autonomous decision makers and provide care in silos. However, lowering costs while improving efficiency and outcomes and enhancing the patient experience cannot happen without teamwork and collaboration. Creating a framework that prioritizes this type of community requires hospitals and healthcare organizations to prioritize physician engagement strategies.


What is physician engagement?

While there does not seem to be a single, agreed-upon definition for the term “physician engagement,” most echo similar sentiments. In its report Critical Conversations on the Changing Health Environment: Physician Engagement, the American Hospital Association defined engagement as being characterized by an emotional connection, involvement, and commitment to an effort. People who are engaged, the report says, go beyond the minimum requirement and put in the extra time and effort to get the best result.


Barriers to physician engagement

On the surface, the idea of increasing physician engagement seems like something that would be readily embraced. However, there are some significant barriers to successfully implementing physician engagement strategies. Chief among those barriers is time. Physicians’ schedules are already jam packed, so finding time for meaningful interaction and measurement can be a challenge. This is compounded by the fact that many physicians view themselves as separate and independent from hospitals. As a result, they often have detached relationships with hospital administrators.


Paving the way

Finding common ground is key. In order to establish a foundation for successful collaboration, hospital administrators should demonstrate that they understand what is important to physicians. The American College of Healthcare Executives says that senior leaders can lay the groundwork for physician engagement by demonstrating a commitment to quality and safety.

The engagement process must be reciprocal. In other words, physicians and administrators must engage with each other in mutually respectful ways.


Strategies to drive physician engagement

Hospitals and healthcare organizations have employed a number of strategies to increase physician engagement. Brigham and Women’s Hospital, for example, has invested in formal training programs to develop strong physician leaders. They have also developed an innovation program that allows physicians to share their ideas and participate in improving clinical care.

Mayo Clinic recommends cultivating a sense of community at work; focusing on cultural alignment across the organization; and implementing incentives based on efficient, population health oriented care rather than productivity.

Other strategies include increasing communication and organizational transparency; shared decision-making related to clinical, administrative, and organizational policies; and reducing the administrative burden so that physicians can focus on why they entered the profession in the first place—patient care.


Benefits of physician engagement

In researching how to engage physicians for one healthcare organization, Gallup found that physicians who were actively engaged were 26 percent more productive than those who were not, equating to an average $460,000 increase in patient revenue per physician per year.


Increasing physician engagement carries value beyond improving the bottom line, enhancing quality and performance, and lowering costs. Increased physician engagement can also help to improve an organization’s culture and foster a sense of connectedness between physicians, administrators, and other clinical leaders. Preliminary research indicates that organizations with high-performing cultures outperform those with low-performing cultures on nearly all key performance indicators.

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